Delhi Conference Sees Some Progress toward Tech Package in a Climate Deal

28 October 2009

Climate change technology plays an essential role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and in addressing the effects of climate change. Increasing developing countries' access to that technology has been at the heart of global climate change negotiations. However discussions on technology transfer, as on other key issues such as mitigation commitments and finance, have witnessed wide disagreements, particularly between developed and developing countries.

In this context, the recent High-Level Conference ‘Climate Change: Technology Development and Transfer', held in New Delhi on 22 and 23 October, achieved some progress in identifying elements of a possible technology transfer package to be part of a wider global climate deal. The officials' aim is to reach agreement on tech transfer in time for the major meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that will be held in Copenhagen in December. The Delhi gathering was attended by officials from 58 countries and nearly 30 ministers and vice-ministers of environment.

The conference was preceded by controversy in India about possible changes in India's position in the negotiations. Media reports had disclosed a letter by the Indian Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggesting a deviation from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which puts the burden of cutting greenhouse gas emissions primarily on developed countries' shoulders. But the Indian minister later took a step back, saying that his letter had been misinterpreted and taken out of context.

At the outset of the meeting, Prime Minister Singh made a forceful statement reaffirming the well-known Indian position.  "Developing countries cannot and will not compromise on development," Singh told the conference. However, as "responsible members of the global community we also do recognise that we, along with other members of the global community, must do our bit to keep our emissions footprint within levels that are sustainable and equitable," he added.

He recalled that India's per capita consumption of primary energy was less than one-fourth of the world average and that its per capita emission of CO2 was among the lowest in the world. "Equating GHG emissions across nations on a per capita basis is the only just and fair basis for a long-term global arrangement on climate change which is truly equitable," he said.

The Delhi conference was preceded by high-level consultations between India and China, during which the two countries signed a bilateral partnership agreement on combating climate change.

Elements of convergence on a technology transfer package

Participants at the Delhi conference agreed on the need to move beyond an ‘abstract' discussion and examine the "specifics and concrete aspects" of putting in place international cooperative mechanisms for climate change technology development and transfer.

In this regard, the Delhi statement on Global Cooperation on Climate Technology, which was adopted by the conference, reflected converging views on some key elements of a possible technology transfer package for Copenhagen: enhanced technological cooperation, including joint research and development of new technologies and products; the possibility of creating a new network of technology centres; the need for periodic assessment, evaluation and expert guidance on new and emerging technologies; the key role of technology financing, in particular public financing; and finally, the critical  need to improve access to and deployment of technologies to enable countries to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Parallel made with Green Revolution

At the opening session, Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, drew a parallel between the Green Agricultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s - which significantly increased agricultural productivity through the diffusion of new technology - and what he called the ‘Green Power Revolution', which he said is needed today to address climate change. Nasheed urged India to show on climate change technology the same leadership it had demonstrated in leading the Green Revolution.

This parallel became a primary theme of the Delhi conference. Many speakers from both developed and developing countries pointed to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research - a food-centred research network known as CGIAR - as a possible model for research collaboration in the area of climate change technologies.

A proposal form India would see the creation of an international network of Climate Innovation Centres (CICs) which would act as vehicles for enhancing technology innovation and capacity building in developing countries. Such a network of centres could draw on the CGIAR experience, India and other countries suggested.

The experience of the Montreal Protocol was also presented and discussed. In this regard, the conference's final statement invited officials to draw lessons from the successful examples of past partnerships - such as those that took place under the Montreal agreement -- in discussions on future mechanisms for technology cooperation.

Disagreements on IPRs persist

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) have been one of the most contentious issues in the talks on climate change and technology transfer. The Delhi conference was no exception in this regard. The meeting's final statement avoided any reference to IPRs, in view of  the persistent disagreements on the matter.

At the outset of the meeting, the Indian Prime Minister referred to climate change technologies as a "global public goods." He further stressed that "the IPR regime applied to those goods should balance rewards for innovators with the need to promote the common good of humankind." He made reference to the approach that had been adopted successfully in the case of pharmaceutical technologies for the benefit of HIV/AIDS victims in developing countries. The moral case for adopting a similar approach to protect our planet is equally compelling, Singh said.

UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi mentioned that developing countries should also be encouraged to make full use of the flexibilities within existing IPR agreements. "There may even be a case to revisit those agreements in light of the scale of the climate challenge," he added.

Developed countries say that strong IPRs are a pre-requisite to innovation and investment in clean technologies, and they have fiercely resisted moves to water down IP regimes in a climate deal.

After the adoption of the statement, the Indian Minister of the environment emphasised that the absence of any mention of IPRs in the Delhi statement did not mean that the vigorous debate on the issue had come to an end.

Despite its informal nature, the Delhi conference - by bringing together critical players and identifying some key elements for convergence - appears to have boosted the odds that climate negotiators will be able to strike an agreement on technology transfer at the Copenhagen meeting.

ICTSD reporting.

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